A modern interpretation of Luke 6:27-36

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Listen!

Love your enemies. Love those who you disagree strongly with. Love those who hate you. Love those who hurt you. Love those who ignore you. Love those who discount you. Love those who see you as worthless, or worth less. Love those who are hard to love.

Pray for those who treat you badly. Pray for those who speak ill of you. Pray for those who demonise you. Pray for those who take from you without giving. Pray for those who couldn’t care less about you. Pray for those who it is difficult to pray for.

Don’t return pain with pain, insult with insult, violence with violence, hate with hate, ignorance with ignorance. Return all these things with love, patience and grace.

It’s easy for us to love our friends and family, anybody can do that, but it’s Christ-like to love and pray for those who we see as the enemy.

So, love and pray for the political opponent, the racist, the sexist, the homophobe, the islamophobe, the anti-semite, the extremist, the newspaper columnist, the paedophile, the burglar, the murderer, the internet troll, the bitter ex, the greedy, the selfish, the malicious gossip or the control freak.

Do it without expecting any thanks or reward from them for it.

Do it because your reward comes from God.

Do it because it’s right.

Do it because you know, deep down, that you need someone to do it for you, despite all your failings.

Do it to show love and mercy in the way your Father shows love and mercy for you.

Lent Day 35: John 11-12

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Why does God allow suffering?

No, I’m not going to give you a definitive answer. Not because I’m bottling it, but because I simply can’t answer it, certainly not with any great authority or confidence.

It’s a question above all others which seems to come up whenever anybody objects to the concept of God. People point to the amount of suffering which God appears to inflict upon people, particularly in parts of the Old Testament, and say that this is hugely incompatible with a loving God. They point to natural disasters, debilitating illnesses which rob people of everything, including their dignity, evils done by people in his name and say that this is the action and behaviour of a despot, not a benevolent God.

Some believers will point to events such as the great flood of Noah’s time and say that these events are the result of God’s wrath for the world’s sins. Some will say that they are all a part of God’s grand, mysterious plan and that all things happen for a reason. Some will say that these things are all, ultimately, caused by human actions due to the free will God has given us.

Me? Sorry, I just don’t know. I wish I did,  it I don’t. I can’t explain why suffering happens, why some of it is directly caused by God’s creation and why he doesn’t appears to directly intervene.

What I do know is this.

Jesus wept.

When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. Not because of the death itself, because he knew that he would raise Lazarus back to life. Even if he hadn’t, surely Lazarus, as Jesus’ follower, would find his place in paradise, so there should be celebrating for him rather than mourning.

No, the suffering was endured by those left behind, Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha. They are why Jesus wept. Jesus loved them, as friends. He saw their pain and anguish at their brother’s death and it hurt him deeply, to the point of tears. He couldn’t stand to see the suffering endured by those he loved and was moved by it.

This is how God reacts to the world’s suffering. I don’t feel that he causes it maliciously and sits on a cloud somewhere, laughing at us. He weeps for our pain. He hates to see us suffering, in pain, in anguish, mourning, sick, tormented. It moves him to weep, because he loves us. He loves us enough to send his son to die for us.

He doesn’t just weep, though. Lazarus’ death did not happen in vain. Jesus raised him back to life to show God’s glory by demonstrating his power over death and by showing the joy that he brings. Imagine the explosion of joy you would feel if you were Mary or Martha here; one minute your brother has been dead for four days, the next he’s walking, talking, living and breathing. Cloud nine wouldn’t be high enough.

God does this even now. When people suffer, others are usually there carrying out incredible acts of compassion, love, healing, justice, bravery or any other number of gifts God gives to each of us, believers or not. He made us like this, put a part of himself into each of us and some of us will, when moved to do so, use that God given abilities and gifts to alleviate suffering where we can.

That’s how God works in suffering. Why it happens, I just don’t know, but I know that he’s always in the aftermath. Picking up the pieces.

Lent Day 15: Mark 4-6

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Apparently, Britain is a Christian country.

I’m not about to look at arguments about Christianity usurping Paganism and absorbing some of its festivals and rituals. I’m also not going to look at Church attendance (which has started to rise, slightly, after years of decline).

But it’s a line which is trotted out on many occasions. Britain is a Christian country and should be proud of its Christian heritage.

It’s safe to say, therefore, that if this were true then Jesus would feel right at home here. Amongst his people. He would look around and see many people, his “bride”, his family, all following his teachings. God’s Kingdom being lived out on earth.

He would look at people who heard the good news and allowed it to take root, to grow, to bear fruit. He wouldn’t see people who have allowed the worries of the world and wealth to push faith aside.

He would see how His people are happy to go without. To support each other in times of need as they bring the good news to others. How they would travel with the bare minimum, living off of the generosity of others through God’s spirit.

He would see how, when people have no food, his people would take compassion and feed them. That they would see what they had, not as their own to be jealously guarded, but as a gift to be shared for the benefit of all. Especially the most needy.

He would see that they look on the outcasts of society with compassion rather than fear and distrust. How they would be moved to help, comfort and heal them. How they would work to make them, not outcast, but part of a wider family.

This is what he would see if Britain was a Christian country. This is what he would see if this was his home.

But, I guess that “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”.

I think, if we were a truly Christian country, we would do all the things Jesus himself demonstrates in these verses. We wouldn’t moan about what was being done with OUR money. We wouldn’t see strangers as a threat to OUR way of life. We wouldn’t see the poor, weak and vulnerable as scrounging off of OUR hard earned cash.

We would share. We would comfort. We would befriend. We would heal. We would help. We would teach. We would show compassion. We would respect. We would love.

We would realise that people’s needs go far beyond bingo and beer. They are much deeper. People need to be treated as human beings, not labels. People need to be given a chance to live. People need respect, love and support. Sometimes financial support, from our pockets. Sometimes practical support, from our time

If we can do all of that then maybe, just maybe, Jesus will look at this place as home.

A modern interpretation of Matthew 25:31-46

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Then, the King said,

“I was hungry and you told me that it was my own fault for being lazy and believing that I was entitled to help from hard working families and that I’d probably spent all of my money on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs anyway.

I was thirsty and you assumed that I was desperate for gin or vodka, rather than water.

I was naked and you said that I would have more chance of a job if I took more care of my personal appearance, even though I wore all I could afford.

I was poor and you told me I was a scrounger who just wanted to sponge off the state and put stories about me on the tv and newspapers, despite knowing nothing about my circumstances.

I was sick and you denied me any help, told me to go back to work and assumed I was faking illness in order to scrounge.

I was in prison and you demanded that the key was thrown away and that I was kept away from all respectable, law-abiding members of society because I was a bad person who could never change.

I was a stranger and you ran, scared of me, told me to go home, that your country was full and that I was only there to steal your money, possessions and jobs.

For I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it to me”